“During the sixties, much of the theatre did not touch real women in spite of the number of female dramatists. But in the seventies, with the shift in the theatre away from ‘absurdism’ and back to a kind of realism, women have begun to write from their own experience. The women playwrights of the seventies are not part of a single movement; they write in many different styles and come to the theatre with many different life-histories….All over the country, women are beginning to create plays, not only from their own lives, but that dramatize history, bring our foremothers to life.
The volume includes Honor Moore’s play “Mourning Pictures.”
Review of Mourning Pictures from After Dark THE NATIONAL MAGAZINE OF ENTERTAINMENT, September 1974
by Laurence Senelick
Genuine theater is very much alive and quite well, thank you, in Massachusetts this summer. The Lenox Arts Center at Wheatleigh, brainchild of producer Lyn Austin, is an exciting, seething kettle of creativity. The Manhattan Project’s manic, irreverent version of The Seagull, a classic seen in a new light, was followed by Mourning Pictures, a new play by Honor Moore and one which may become a classic.
Mourning Pictures, which casts a slightly fictionalizing veil over the death of the author’s mother by cancer, is a harrowing comedy—harrowing because the slow, degenerative process is in no way palliated; a comedy because the ultimate feeling is affirmative, the triumph of the individual human spirit over the adventitious indignities of dying. The play is conceived in a brilliant theatrical idiom: a mélange of hard- edged poetry, brief dialogues, and the counterpoint of various pop song-styles, playing under, over, around, and through the action. The effect is reminiscent of Oriental theater, intense, yet detached, somewhat as if Emily Dickinson had written Noh plays.
It is welt served by its actors. Leora Dana, ravaged, gaunt, dry as a bone, and smart as a whip, has the role of her career, making of the dying mother a very real, very specific woman whose plight is universal. As the eldest daughter, who cannot reveal her love through fear, guilt, and disgust, Kathryn Walker has the luminosity of embodied intelligence; her final “aria” is delivered with a dazzling virtuosity few young actresses can command. Talk is that the show will be brought to New York in the fall.
Mr. Senelick is head of Theatre at Tufts University and a director, actor and translator.
(Excerpt copyright 1974 by the author, all rights reserved.)
The mourning picture, which usually showed agravestone with the survivors grieving beside it, was an art form popular inthe early nineteenth century, especially in New England. Young womenstitched or painted them for bereaved friends.
“I remember being on the Eastern Shuttle going to visit mymother in Washington, D.C., while she was dying of cancer. There were allthese very strong feelings inside me that seemed to have an almostindependent life. I was just sitting there, and none of the other passengersknew, or, I thought, would have wanted to know, what I was feeling. So I opened my journal and wrote, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, my mother is dying …‘ because I couldn’t say it—that was thefirst part of Mourning Pictures.”
At the age of ten, Honor Moore collaborated with her sixth-grade class on a play about Ancient Egypt. That was the beginning of anobsession which kept her in the theatre, in nearly every capacity, for manyyears. In 1970, after co-producing The Nest by Tina Howe off-Broadway, shebegan to write full time. “Because I always performed my poems andbecause of my theatre background, it seemed natural to say yes when MarySilverman and Lyn Austin asked me to write a play about my mother’sdying, instead of the book of poems I’d planned.” MourningPictures, Moore’s first play, was produced by Austin and Silverman atthe Lenox Arts Center with Leora Dana and Kathryn Walker in the leadingroles; Kay Carney directed, and Susan Am composed the music. In November1974, the same production moved to the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway.
MARCH THROUGH MAY
March 29. Afternoon.
The telephone rings. I answer.
Hello? I hear nothing.
It frightens me.
It’s my mother. It doesn’t sound
like her. A week ago I wrote
her, I love you.
Not the perfunctory “I
love you.” A new one. The real one.
I went to the gynecologist.
She examined me.
Tomorrow I go to
the hospital for tests. She found—
Alone in a red coat she walks
down a long white hall—
found a lump in my right
In bed in a room. They
hold her wrist.
I love you.
Why is this happening?
I’m here, Mom. I love you.
I refuse to share her terror.
My new ability to say
“I love you” right out to
my own mother is an
act of courage great enough to
save the whole world.
March 31. Two AM.
I am sleeping. The phone rings. It is dark.
The clock says two. It is my father.
I just want
to tell you—Maggie’s
in the hospital.
I was sleeping. Wasn’t
it just for tests?
We don’t know for sure—
I don’t want to wake up.
says it’s probably cancer.
The question is how far the tumor’s spread.
I can’t comfort him. I want to go back
I’ll call after
we know more.
I know this call
at two A.M. means he wants more than to
Good night, Margaret.
—but I am cold.
I run to bed. It is easy to sleep.
Ladies and gentlemen, my mother is
dying. You say “Everyone’s mother dies.”
I bow to you, smile. Ladies, gentlemen,
my mother is dying. She has cancer.
You say “Many people die of cancer.”
I scratch my head. Gentle ladies, gentle
men, my mother has cancer, and, short of
some miracle, will die. You say “This has
happened many times before.” You say “Death
is something which repeats itself.” I bow.
Ladies and gentlemen, my mother has cancer
all through her. She will die unless there’s
a miracle. You shrug. You gave up religion
years ago. Marxism too. You don’t believe
in anything. I step forward. My mother
is dying. I don’t believe in miracles.
Ladies and gentlemen, one last time: My
mother’s dying. I haven’t got another.